Farrukh Dhondy | Brexit's effects hit UK harder: Gig' workers bear the brunt

The ships' departure will lead to the imports not reaching industries and consumer goods not reaching the shelves of retailers

“Women in clinging brown dresses
Remind me of baked potatoes--
But seeing their alluring tresses
I realise the simile transgresses
The limits of woke
- So, I’m sorry I spoke
These comparisons must go on tip toes.”

From The Ladder of Love by Bachchoo

Sixty ships were turned away from Britain’s shores last week. No, gentle reader, this wasn’t Francis Drake repelling the Spanish Armada -- it was a lack of space in container ports. Britain has suffered an acute shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers to carry into the nation’s interior the containers that the cargo ships unload at the ports. The glut of containers meant that the ships had to hang about for days or turn away from the ports.

Their departure will lead to the imports not reaching industries and consumer goods not reaching the shelves of retailers.

The government, enthusiastic advocates of Brexit, will undoubtedly claim that this is a triumph for their policy. The shortages, Prime Minister BoJo has already proclaimed, will force industry and haulage companies to pay higher wages which will then turn the UK into a contemporary superpower.

Hot air! The Tories who at their recent party conference applauded BoJo’s contention must have clapped him with crossed fingers of one hand behind their backs.

This talk of the so-called “levelling up” -- forcing businesses to pay much higher wages to fill the vacancies that Brexit has caused by forcing the exodus of European workers from these shores, is wishful thinking or even a case of whistling in the dark as the lights go out.

The shortage of drivers in the HGV sector is not the only one. The hospitality industry, the National Health Service, care homes for the elderly and now, ludicrously, abattoirs which decapitate pigs and deliver pork, ham and bacon to the nation, are all in crisis. The last one has been national news in the UK with footage on TV of thousands of pigs who will have to be “disposed of” because of the lack of trained butchers.

There is in the country a real problem of low wages and exploitation of workers. One example recently attracting the limelight is that of the couriers who deliver ready meals from restaurants and takeaway joints to homes and offices. There are several firms offering this delivery service, the two most prominent are Deliveroo and Just Eat.

This latter company sends its drivers on two wheels, motorised or pedalled, and keeps them on self-employed contracts. This means they get paid by the hour and don’t have the benefits of controlled hours, holiday pay, etc, that have been passed into British law through the demands and agitation of working-class institutions. These “gig” economy workers have not had their rights protected by the government that boasts about its plans to level up.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of very many retail stores, the population has turned to home deliveries. Shopping lists go out by email and the goods are delivered to one’s doorstep. I am aware that in most, perhaps all cities in India, one can order a meal, a drink or groceries by phone or through online platforms. I suppose the delivery service extends to Amazon delivering purchases ordered by email and am sure that India’s supermarkets and even small stores accept delivery orders.

Undoubtedly the coronavirus years have exacerbated the demand and supply and now we must wonder if the populations of the world will ever go completely back to shopping in shops. Jeff Bezos triumphs.

In my long-gone childhood, gentle reader, there was no Jeff Bezos and no gig economy because there were no computers. Yes, there were house phones, but one couldn’t order groceries or anything else on them. if one wanted a bottle of lemonade, one walked down to the corner Irani café in Pune and ordered it at the counter, from behind which the proprietor would shout loudly to the kitchen-hatch “lemon batli parcel!” It didn’t strike me then that all three words were English or at least derived from English.

Today the Brits still say “takeaway” for food to eat outside the place that is selling it. The Americans say “to go”. The Brits emphasise the customer’s role in taking the food away. The Americans pretend the food is active in its departure. Ho hum.

And yet in those childhood days there was a sort of gig economy, in that street salespeople fetched milk, eggs, bread, sweetcorn and a lot else to your doorstep, shouting the names of their wares in the street. I recall a fellow at Byculla in Mumbai shouting what was and remains a slogan of mystery as he walked through the alleys where my grandfather had the family building called -- you guessed it -- Dhondy Terrace.

He would shout, in a musical hum “Jamset, Jamset, Jamset, Jamset, chum chari yumpum Jamset!” I never found out what he was selling.

And then there was the stove repair man who would carry his tools in a bag on his back and shout “Primus na choola repairing, feturyun na choola repairing!” He got the Primus name right, but “feturyun” was his version for a cast-iron cooking stove with a wick dipped in a bottom tank of kerosene which the British manufacturer called “Criterion”.

Nevertheless, the users of the contraption understood what he meant and many a stove was repaired on a Pune doorstep.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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